Organisations should be focusing on their employee’s wellbeing all the time – not just when they need it.
As the battle to fight the stigma of mental health issues continues to capture national attention, there is ever-increasing pressure put upon organisations and their HR departments to change with the times, to focus on their workforce’s mental health and, as a result, to strengthen their wellbeing strategies.
Mental health is an issue that organisations cannot afford to ignore. We know that most people will be affected by mental health issues at some point in their lives, so why are we waiting until people reach perhaps a crisis point before providing help or support?
MIND has released figures showing that 1 in 4 people experience mental ill-health each year. The effects can be catastrophic. Personal and work relationships can be damaged; there are risks of serious mistakes, personal and work-related, as well as a decline in productivity in the workplace.
This issue has huge implications for the individual. It has massive financial implications for employers: mental health related absences are estimated to cost businesses £26bn annually. What’s more, according to an article in the magazine, People Management, mental health issues are more likely to arise in the workplace because the workplace itself can produce the stress levels that are the tipping point.
So why are people so at risk in the workplace? Studies by the Health and Safety Executive have identified excessive workloads as the most common cause of stress, anxiety and depression (in 44 per cent of all cases), followed by lack of support (14 per cent) and bullying (13 per cent).
Switching off to work concerns when outside the workplace can also contribute to good mental health. A recent study by Bupa found that the increased tendency of employees to check their work mobile phones outside working hours, even while on holiday or off sick for example, meant staff were failing properly to rest and recharge which was having a serious effect on mental wellbeing at work. 
With its hugely detrimental effect on workers' lives, company cohesion and profitability, I do really wonder why the issue of workplace mental health has proved so hard for employers to get a grip on?
Tips for employers
Acas has published guidance tips on the responsibilities of employers to manage workplace mental health.
Crucially, the guidance focuses heavily on the problem of stigma and how this should be dealt with. It recommends that employers:
- develop an action plan to change attitudes
- create a mental health policy to set out its values
- train managers and ensure they champion awareness and fight stigma
- tackle work-related causes of mental ill-health
- educate the workforce.
In the Time to Change’s Attitudes to Mental Illness Report (2014) there are signs that attitudes towards mental health problems are starting to change for the better but, as the report shows, there’s a long way to go.
First of all, there is a sharp reminder in the report of the size of the problem: the number of people acknowledging they know someone close to them who has experienced mental illness was 58 per cent in 2009. That is a high number when looked at on its own. But this figure had reached 65 per cent by 2014, according to the report.
Forty per cent of those surveyed said that they would be comfortable talking to their employer about a mental health problem, which is a positive sign. This is still, of course, a lot smaller than the 48 per cent – nearly half of those surveyed - who said they would feel uncomfortable raising any mental health issues with their bosses, so there’s a long way to go to improve attitudes. 
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. In my view, it should not just be this week, because it’s an awareness week, that mental health should be high on the agenda – it should be every day, every week, in every workplace. Only by talking about the issue of mental health, discussing the stigma attached to it openly and raising awareness in the workplace can positive, permanent change come about.
This is my call for change. What are your organisations’ wellbeing strategies and how are your organisations championing awareness to fight the stigma? What do you think that employers could, and should, be doing better?